Friday, April 13, 2012

Attending the tale of Sweeney Todd

I enjoy the irony that after dedicating almost 400 hours to Sweeney Todd, I was originally going to skip my audition. Tonight is our closing night and the last of 16 performances which have been seen by (what I guess) a few thousand people. I thought I probably should record some thoughts since this is my first musical in a community and I don't think I've ever been so emotionally invested and attached to the content and the people involved.

Me and John!
In terms of musical genius in the realms of Broadway, Sondheim's Sweeney Todd is simply unrivaled. Its lavish score is replete with superb arias littered with complex rhythmic passages and exquisite lyrical content that explores the gamut of human emotions while simultaneously captivating its audience through progression of the storyline. Amongst the luscious and generous orchestration, Sondheim utilises a cinematic approach with motifs and themes that correspond to and enhance the plot and the characters, ensuring that each song adds extra facets and dimensions to the plot and that none of the pieces are superfluous.

The sheer grandeur of the score can be identified in practically every song in the show - a few highlights include the mesmerising and hypnotic beauty of 'Johanna', the vivacious and delightful rendezvous of 'A Little Priest', and the melancholic disenfranchisement of 'Green Finch and Linnet Bird'. My two favourite pieces are the quartet arrangement of 'Kiss Me!', a fleeting and inherently romantic piece which holds Sondheim's best of harmony and counterpoint galore with beautifully sweeping instrumentation, and 'City on Fire!'. 'City on Fire' literally takes off and explodes, boasting cascading phrases of violent imagery with obscene hyperboles and metaphors to conjure an intense, visceral nightmare. After all this time I've not grown tired of the score, it's still something that enjoy and am fascinated with.

Members of Ignatians Musical Society have been rehearsing for Sweeney Todd since the 1st of December last year. Since Sweeney Todd is my favourite musical I promised myself if it was ever staged I would try my best to be involved, so I booked an audition a few weeks before at the suggestion of a friend. On the day I actually considered not going (I was reluctant since I was worried about the commitment), but at the last minute I caught the train and turned up to the audition, where I still hadn't picked my two audition songs. On the way into the room I finally decided on 'This is Not Over Yet' (from Parade) and 'Quidam' (from Quidam). We also had to learn a movement number at the audition and it was pretty scary since I'm not very coordinated and the prospect that we had to move like ballet dancers was daunting and made me want to drop out. In the end I got a callback to audition for the role of Tobias, and at the callback I was eventually (I think just because I happened to be there) offered a role in the ensemble which I accepted straight away since the main reason I auditioned was so I could sing 'City on Fire!'.

Sam and Sam!
'City on Fire!' is my favourite song to perform (I also get to sing my favourite line "The engine roared, the motor hissed"), but I'm also extremely lucky to be one of the only 5 people in the show who get to be killed on Sweeney's chair. I manage to die spectacularly each night thanks to a bunch of maple syrup dyed red and some fancy tricks which usually gets a reaction from the audience (thanks to the Makeup Wizards!). I really respect our director John Peek, because it feels he managed to get everyone some moments in the show where they shine.

The cast and crew involve some of the best quality people I've ever met in my life. They're a really fun, talented bunch and I feel cheated that I didn't know some of them sooner. What I'm really thankful for is that there are so many supremely talented people who don't need to be featured in a leading role and are happy to be featured in an ensemble. That said, we have a bunch of phenomenal leads that I'm really thrilled with the performance of. The cast execute their performance in a manner that is on par with professional productions and it was a fantastic opportunity to play which enjoying the practical experience of performing. Lots of good times happened in the theatre and out. One of my favourite memories in the whole process was when Sam was driving a few of us to the station and when we stopped at some lights we noticed Miranda was in the car next to us, so Sam signaled to Miranda to wind down the window, and we started shouting the lyrics from 'City on Fire!' at her. It was just awesome. I could probably go on for a while, but for the sake of maintaining reader interest (dubious already) so I'll just leave it there.

That seems a little over the place but the show is nearing the end now and I will be very sad to see it go - it's been a huge part of my life so far this year (and a great excuse to avoid seeing people) and I am going to miss some people so much it will probably ache. I'm going to stand offstage and watch from the wings for as much as I can tonight to see the show one last time. But I will cherish the memories, and the score of Sweeney Todd has become even more special.
Earth Hour in Sweeneyland!

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